From the opening act where Harry defends Dudley from an onslaught of Dementors to its closing cutscene, Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7's graphics are downright glorious. This is the best looking Lego game in the series' library -- the textures are smooth, the colours sizzle, and the environments, whether urban or natural, look convincingly realistic -- and it's obviously meant to be played in HD. With the lazy exception of duplicate paintings lining the Hogwarts castle walls, digital Legos look even better in-game than they do in real life, especially the ghosts. Some might find it disappointing that not enough Legos are used to render the environments, but I found it to be just the right balance of Lego charm hard-wired into fantasy environments.
The graphics are two steps above those seen in Years 1-4, but the same loopy bugs are, apologetically, still bugging. TT Games has been giving Lego makeovers to beloved franchises since 2005, beginning with Star Wars, and they have yet to iron out a number of bugs that plagued the first game. My A.I. teammate would occasionally walk in an endless loop when I'd need it to join me in magically unlocking the door to the next stage. Once, halfway through an arc in The Half-Blood Prince, I was forced to reload my save, which is annoying in and of itself despite the fact that I had to endure four lengthy loading screens. The game isn't quite glitch-free, and although it's disappointing to see the same quirks appear four years in, the bugs are seldom and easy to overcome -- switching between characters or rapidly jumping can sometimes unsnap a character that's gone rogue.
Given that these years tackle the darker, meatier, more action-packed films in the series -- don't be fooled; Traveler's Tales develops for Warner Brothers, and the Lego Harry Potter games have never used Rowling's books as their primary source material -- it would be easy for a die-hard Potter fan such as myself to regard the cute humour that displaces the heavier narrative to be in poor taste. But the Lego games have their own formula, utilizing silent cutscenes to tell a story and incorporate humour to every franchise they've tackled. The humour is there to keep these games light, and "Harry Potter Light" is a game I've thoroughly enjoyed, especially the anticipation of seeing how TT will tackle something like the sea of shattering prophecies in the Ministry of Magic and the dragon's escape from the vaults under Gringotts.
The voiceless narrative put forth through mime can be difficult for newcomers to the lore of Harry Potter to follow, but this doesn't take away from the pleasure of solving puzzles. At times they can feel completely bewildering, especially with the variety of landscapes they pop up in, but it helps to trust that there is always a solution pulling at your toes. What's more, using magic to solve these puzzles is pumped up a few notches in this sequel, with a helping of new spells that encourage short fetch-quests and putting out fires.
Whether you're playing solo or with the oft-superior experience of couch co-op, the world to explore is as vast as it is varied, encouraging hours of replay once the story is complete. Years 5-7 features the most massive overworld in any Lego game, while the storyline levels hide secrets behind locked doors, ready to be uncovered once the necessary characters have been unlocked.
With co-op being the preferred way to play, TT has developed an interesting way to prevent the wide-panning camera that many players scoffed at in early iterations of the Lego games. The previous instalment offered a similar experience, but Years 5-7 gives both players more freedom to wander around a level without feeling tied up in a three-legged adventure. As in the previous game, a line separates each player's screen once they move far enough away from each other, and then blends back into one image when the players return to the appropriate proximity. It's a brilliant idea to counteract the problems seen in early Lego games, but the blending can lead to some strange feelings of vertigo, especially if you focus your eyes on the environment rather than your character. It's a well-intended solution, and one that can be strengthened, but it still feels like there are a number of dents to be hammered out. The inclusion of a player-controlled camera may very well be a step in the right direction.
With Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7, the universe of wizards and Muggles has come to a close. This sequel to the first four films has done well to build more exploration into the beautifully rendered environments. The darker, heavier subjects encountered late in the series are well matched with mimed humour, pleasantly reminiscent of the Three Stooge's slap-stick, and the co-op experience is more unbounded and inviting than ever.
LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7: Specs
- Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.
- Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.
While not without its flaws -- there are still a number of bugs that date back to the early games, and the co-op split-screen can be a doozy to get used to -- the formula developed by Traveler's Tales to bring out the Lego maniac in any gamer(s) wishing for a family-friendly, casual gaming experience is now stronger than it's ever been.